The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Tuesday that it would be temporarily waiving penalties for potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to better enable health care providers to treat patients remotely as the nation grapples with the Wuhan virus pandemic.
HIPAA protects patient privacy by prohibiting their medical history from being shared by providers, which also prevents their records from being used for advertising and marketing campaigns. One consequence of the privacy law however, keeps doctors and nurses from using certain kinds of technology such as FaceTime and Facebook Messenger to communicate with patients seeking care over concerns that information might be shared unknowingly without patient consent.
“During the COVID-19 [Wuhan virus] national emergency, which also constitutes a nationwide public health emergency, covered health care providers subject to the HIPAA Rules may seek to communicate with patients, and provide telehealth services, through remote communications technologies,” HHS said in a statement.
The directive still cautioned providers however, not to use HIPAA non-compliant platforms such as FaceTime and Facebook.
“Under this Notice, however, Facebook Live, Twitch, TikTok, and similar video communication applications are public facing, and should not be used in the provision of telehealth by covered health care providers,” HHS said, following with a list of alternative platforms that should be used instead that include Skype for Business, Updox, VSee, Zoom for Healthcare, Doxy.me, and Google G Suite Hangouts Meet.
“We are empowering medical providers to serve patients wherever they are during this national public health emergency,” said Roger Severino, the director of HHS’ Office for Civil Rights. “We are especially concerned about reaching those most at risk, including older persons and persons with disabilities.”